What do we look for in Pet Partner therapy dogs?

Magellan is on his way to becoming a Pet Partner therapy dog

Magellan is on his way to becoming a Pet Partner therapy dog

So often I meet people who tell me “My dog is the friendliest and loves everybody – he would make a great therapy dog.”

The first thing I ask them is “How does your dog show you he loves people?”

They proceed to tell me he runs up to everyone, jumps at them, wags his tail, sometimes tries to lick them and often barks with great joy!

Well, those behaviors do not make great therapy dogs.

Calm, happy, gentle dogs make the best therapy dogs and they show their love without vocalizing, jumping, licking, lunging, or flying into your lap!

To go through the Pet Partner program, the handlers attend a course just for them without their dogs and the dogs have to pass a rigorous test with many elements to assess their true nature and behavior.

What do we look for when meeting a potential Pet Partners therapy team? Here are just some basics:

  • The dog has to be at least one year old
  • To have lived with his owner for more than six months
  • To not be on a raw protein diet
  • To have solid basic obedience and walk well on a loose leash, no jumping, barking, reactivity to animals or humans
  • To use no negative training equipment such as metal collars (choke, prong) or electronic collars
  • To show no reactivity to other dogs or new people or sounds
  • To show no nervousness around new surroundings and people
  • To show no desire to pick things up off the floor that appeal to him
  • To have the desire to work – that spark in his eye when his name is called

And what do we look for in a great owner?

  • A great relationship with their dog is key.
  • A quiet understanding of each other’s signs and signals and visible joy to be together.
  • The time and motivation to become a skilled handler and professional volunteer team.